At first listen, I thought Ana Egge was an ethereal / world singer with a tinge of lounge jazz. Her opening track with its deep Charles Muench upright bass is cool in a beat generation manner. Nice deep tone in the fiddle playing also and it adds sonically to the moodiness. (There are two fiddle players on this album but the individual playing is not broken down. So, it's either Maya De Vitry or Oliver Craven).
Dreamer, with most of its lead instrument being the upright bass, is potent. It’s not enough to say that the fiddle playing adds quite a nice dimension to the tune -- it does and this ten song collection on “Bright Shadow,” begins – but it’s a tease.
The second track tumbles out with a generously strong melodic country air. Ana sounds a lot like a cross between the great New Zealand country singer Donna Dean and the renown Michigan country-folk singer Carrie Newcomer. Oh and I am not comparing…this is the neighborhood in which Ana sings and Ana is her own woman – no doubt. If I were a disc jockey I would certainly piggy-back her fine tunes with Donna, Carrie and Gillian Welch. They are at home in each other’s genre. It’s like saying The Grateful Dead are similar to The Pure Prairie League. Yes, they’re close -- their relationship is similar in style, musicians, and approaches...but, they are uniquely their own. This is how that compliment is meant to be shared.
This second track is the Bryan Thomas penned “Flat Top Guitar,” and it’s a winner with solid fiddle and vocals, tight guitars by Ana Egge that trots along at an invirgorating pace. Ana’s voice is butterscotch sweet and warm. A real nice tone – sincerity pours from her throat. The fiddles chime like a Baptist chorus with wonderful accompaniment and when the backup singers add their support it is spun gold. This is quite a pleasurable song.
But surprises continue and on track three Ana manages to add to her album's quality with “Jenny Run Away.” This is a remarkable rework of the traditional country-folk fiddle tune: "Jenny Run Away In the Mud In the Night." I began to wait for Ana and her small band to run out of steam but The Stray Birds and Ana walloped me again with the title track “Bright Shadow.”
Crystal clear menagerie of guitars, mandolins and vocals. If you're blue, stressed or anxious this will certainly cool your jets. It seems Ana has managed to find a sound in her vocal approach that is soothing, and provides an elixir for anyone who is filled with angst. This is quite an impressive collection and I am not half way through though Ana slows things down with the beautiful “Rock Me (Divine Mother).”
It's a small spiritual-type approach with excellent Ana Egge acoustic guitar with a very Beth-Nielsen Chapman / Mary Chapin Carpenter spirit. Ana certainly deserves to be respectfully in their company.
Bright and sunny banjo, plucking fiddle strings and Ana’s precise vocals frame the cover of Dolly Parton’s always reliable “Wildflowers.” More folky than the other tunes it is nonetheless a powerful ballad. Not so sweet that it would give anyone cavities, it is sprightly and filled with that necessary emotion that makes it fluid and with restrained exuberance. This could easily become a classic. Emmylou Harris? Gillian Welch? Shawn Colvin? Wendy Waldman? Ah…but they would have an uphill climb to best Ana’s original take on this album. It flickers like a lone candle in a dark long room.
Ana Egge makes her home now in New York City – of all places but she does indeed have the credentials to make music like this. She is not green either, this is her eighth album. She has already worked with Ron Sexsmith and Steve Earle (who produced her previous album). She also shared a stage with Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Ralph Stanley, George Jones and many others. No too shabby. What’s equally great is this collection was produced by Ana with the majority of the songs written by her. Her backup band is known as The Stray Birds and their solid performance helps to guarantee a continued intense and wonderful sound: take a bow Maya De Vitry (fiddle, banjo, vocals); Charles Muench (upright bass, vocals); Oliver Craven (mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar, vocals).
One of the best tracks on the album that jumped out after three or four listens is the brilliantly arranged and played “Maps of the Moon.” Ana’s vocals are haunting, powerful and the melody is captivating. The mournful upright bass just under the surface with the top sweetened with riveting fiddles chugs along. Yes, Ana Egge, at times sounds familiar to those classic female vocalists I mentioned but she is an original. “Turning Away,” is a stripped down acoustic guitar tune with a little fiddle. Ana has sharp phrasing and intensely warm microphone work that pours her emotive words, -- if you listen on headphones -- right into your head…up close, emotional, personal and quite delightful.
The closing track continues in this fashion – “The Ballad of Jean Genet.” It features slide guitar and it’s a beautifully rendered ballad with Ana’s Tiffany-rich vocals. I tried to find something weak, spotty, a few songs that could be considered filler, uninspired – but, there’s not a green wormy apple in the bunch. This is all sweet, and ripe for picking. A mature, diversified collection that Ana has tweaked, polished with personality and charm. Will country radio embrace it with Taylor Swift, Martina McBride and the like dominating the charts? Who knows? Probably not.
But one thing is for certain: The audience that does come to see Ana Egge perform these songs live will come away satisfied, pleased and invigorated. How a collection of country music this good can be captured in a studio in New York City is beyond me. I can understand a Lou Reed or an Iggy Pop being successful with New York studios – but, country with this kind of presentation? I guess I was wrong.
Lucinda Williams has been quoted as saying Ana Egge (is) "...an exceptional songwriter - the Nina Simone of folk." I agree.
The Stray Birds appear courtesy of Yep Roc Records. A job well done.
Soundcloud Site: https://soundcloud.com/search?q=ana%20egge
Photography: Live color image courtesy of Blowfish; Live in red blouse with guitar courtesy of kjguch.com
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request.
John Apice / No Depression / March 2016